In this 2006 programmatic statement, the Group of Council Communists of Galicia offer their assessment of the continuing validity of the principles of council communism and the world-transformative process that leads to communism by way of the simultaneous transformation of humanity, which they describe as “the first revolution in history in which the new economic conditions also presuppose the full development of the human being as the productive force of his material life”.
Reorientation and Perspectives: Beyond “Class Consciousness. . .”1 - Grupo de Comunistas de Consejos de Galiza
1. Our Overall Historical Perspective
Until the degradation of labor by declining capitalism becomes absolutely intolerable for the working class, there will be no necessary impulse for a resurgence of the global class struggle that would allow for the construction of an organized revolutionary current. Such a tendency will only develop very slowly, because of the continuous expansion of the means of spiritual domination wielded by the capitalist class—and also, as we shall see below, of the means of material domination that the world proletariat will have to confront. This slow progress is also due to the fact that the working class does not start from scratch, but will have to develop its revolutionary consciousness by way of difficult, large-scale and violent breaks with its previous experience; ruptures and developments that require an impulse to action directly proportional to the magnitude of its practical, organizational and theoretical tasks. An impulse which, given its starting point (the social condition of the proletarians as alienated individuals), can only arise and proceed in a way that is independent of the will of the proletarians themselves. This is what Marx was referring to when he said that it was not a question of what the proletariat thought of itself, but what it was obliged to do in conformity with its social existence.
As has been demonstrated over the last few years in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia—although only as phenomena linked with a conjunctural concentration of the periodic world crisis in these countries—the economic collapse, the political crisis of the parliamentary institutions themselves, and the rise of spontaneous mass movements with a tendency toward autonomous organization, is the form that the proletarian response to declining capitalism will first assume.
The process of the autonomous development of the working class is slow, difficult and tortuous, as its content typically consists of a process of human self-transformation rather than a simple process of consciousness-raising. When Marx set aside the idea, already present in Feuerbach, of an essential human nature as the substrate of the entire historical development of the mode of human existence, he did so because he understood that social existence determines not only consciousness but also human nature itself, so that both aspects are inseparable. In other words, as Marx expressed it in Capital, human existence transforms nature through labor and in this process it also transforms itself. The radical character of the proletarian revolution, which must abolish class society, and not just its capitalist form, means that a profound spiritual transformation is necessary for this goal to be reached. In previous revolutions, this aspect remained underdeveloped or not immediately obvious, because their objectives entailed merely a change of form of the existing society, so that the rising class was not itself obliged to abolish the entire legacy from the past, but could restrict its efforts to moulding the form of social relations in accordance with the new economic conditions. The proletarian revolution is the first revolution in history in which the new economic conditions also presuppose the full development of the human being as the productive force of his material life. And thus it presupposes the most complete liberation of all faculties and abilities, both spiritual and material, of all individuals.
Conscious participation in this process requires of revolutionaries a high degree of flexibility, adaptability, perseverance, patience, study and intellectual effort, as well as firm principles and practical commitment and self-discipline.
We have recently matured with respect to our historical and international perspective. We have definitively put the remains of youth’s infantile radicalism behind us and we are utterly determined, if necessary, to offer even more intransigent and total opposition to any opportunist course, whether or not it acknowledges its reformism (Bolshevism, anarchosyndicalism, the anti-globalization movements [“altermundialismo”], etc., etc.).
2. Council Communism and the Shaping of Future Praxis
We call ourselves council communists because we think that this current of revolutionary thought is the most advanced, and therefore the best foundation for confronting the tasks of the present day. We trace our own theoretical roots directly to classic council communism. But this position is as far as possible from being doctrinaire. The same is true of our insistence on the original Marxism. We would not have reached our current theoretical view without theoretical contributions from other sources, especially those derived from anarchism.
We must therefore state that, from our point of view, all currents of revolutionary thought, and this is especially true of groups or organizations on a national level, are necessarily the expressions of one part, not the whole, of the historic proletarian movement. It was by taking into account this intrinsic fragmentation that we came to emphasize the question of the permanent rehabilitation of revolutionary thought and the question of theoretical pluralism.
From the perspective of the construction of a revolutionary movement, the vitality and dynamism of revolutionary thought are much more important than convergence around general principles—which is often only skin deep and is not sufficient for achieving a common praxis. It is also fundamental to understand that certain forms of thought correspond to the conditions of certain historical periods and to certain levels of experience, and become inadequate for addressing the class struggle of a later period. This is the case with regard to attempts to elaborate a revolutionary Marxism on the basis of a critical revision of Leninism, which nonetheless preserves the entire legacy of Leninism and its reformist vision of society and proletarian action (exemplified by some of the more Leftist Trotskyist groups and currents descended from Luxemburgism). The same is true of the attempts, within anarchism, to rehabilitate anarchosyndicalism.
We claim that it is necessary to construct a unitary revolutionary thought, integrating the various historical contributions and going beyond them. This still implies that we have a unique starting point of our own, but it also implies an attitude of sincere intellectual openness. Of course, any convergence must have a firm basis in common practice and in the practical comprehension of the class struggle and the tasks of the revolutionaries.
a) Communism as a Force for Material Transformation
It is necessary to emphasize that communism is not a mere theory of class struggle. In this sense, we do not return to Marx exactly in order to repeat what was presented as the typical revolutionary view in the 19th century. The theoretical developments needed today are not related to the theory of the revolutionary development of the class struggle. Those theories basically already exist, thanks to the councilists of the past, and all that is needed is to provide them with a form adapted to current and future conditions. What is more necessary now than ever before is for revolutionary thought, confronted by totalitarian capitalism, to develop a project for the complete radical transformation of human life in its entirety, going beyond “traditional” and “political” issues—which are, of course, nothing but the existing politics, the bourgeois politics of the game of power and opposition, pro and con.
The independence of communism as a political force is not rooted in its separate organization and propaganda, but in the fact that it is constantly striving to attain independence from all influence from bourgeois society; by developing, formulating and disseminating its own revolutionary view of the whole, without allowing itself to be conditioned by immediate events, ruling ideologies or existing political forces. It is not a counter-movement within bourgeois society but a movement that is abolishing bourgeois society, that finds within itself its starting point and its own purpose, that views the suppression of bourgeois society, at every moment and in every aspect of its own praxis, as the verification of the revolutionary nature of its praxis.
Therefore, there is nothing strange about the fact that communist groups should stand in the most radical and total antagonism towards all forms of contemporary political practice, towards all forms of social thought and practice, towards the way of life and existence of the individuals produced by contemporary society. Their living essence is the free, creative and cooperative autonomous activity of individuals, which is continually in a state of resistance and rebellion against its subjection to any external limits, and which directs all its efforts to its own extension; that is, to the construction of proletarian power on the basis of the autonomous production and self-organization of the proletarians as political subjects in a communist sense, as subjects striving for the transformation of their entire social life in a communist way. Communism, as praxis, therefore signifies the dissolution of politics into the life of civil society. It signifies the transformation of each individual into an active component of the process of the communist organization of society and, at the same time, of the individual’s own personal communist self-transformation.
But every essence is, in the historical-materialist understanding of human reality, always a “method”, a dynamos, a dialectical self-mediation of the totality. What Marxism defines as the essence of revolutionary praxis is not identical to, but an approximation of the end which is posited as its goal. Communism, the suppression of private property and alienated labor, is not the end, but at the most its form. It is the mediation necessary for giving rise to a new stage of development of human society that, at the present time, we are incapable of descrying, except as abstract potential. Trying to anticipate the realities of a qualitatively different society would be like formulating utopian systems or writing science fiction stories. But it is indispensable to recognize the inherent limits of theoretical thought and thus of any pretense to systematization, “revolutionary leadership”, etc.
In capitalist society the subjective principle of social development is the thirst for material gain. In communist society it will be the will towards the self-transformation of the human species, which already was and will be in the future the subjective essence of the conscious proletarian revolution. The objective principle of development of capitalist society is that of the development and socialization of technology (and of technological knowledge). The objective principle of development of communist society will be the development and socialization of individuals’ total creativity (which only has its elementary basis in the socialization of technology on a mass scale).
The bourgeois political discourse is the discourse of a minority addressed to the majority. This is why it separates its means—reduced to an abstract general “democratic”, representative, etc., will—from its real ends. Since it considers the majority as a subordinate mass, it must necessarily conceal its real goals, whether consciously or mystified by the means-end relation, or both at the same time.
The revolutionary-proletarian discourse is a discourse common to the entire class it represents. It does not fix watertight boundaries between majority and minority, masses and vanguard, nor does it establish its political praxis on that basis. It considers the proletarian class as an active and conscious subject and refuses to practically conceal its real goals or the means to achieve them. That is, it refuses to separate immediate goals from maximum goals, the approach to the everyday struggle from the perspective of the proletarian revolution, when it addresses the working class. Communist ideas are not abstractions, they are practical and concrete: any ideology with the communist label is nothing but a complete falsification of the spirit of communism, that is, of the theory of the preconditions for the liberation of the proletariat.
While bourgeois discourse aims to mould the minds of the proletarians in accordance with the social behavior established by the capitalist order, revolutionary discourse must go beyond the ordinary mental plane and embrace the entire spiritual dimension of human existence in the fullest sense: it must become not only an instrument of self-clarification of the class, but also an ideal force that awakens the most profound aspirations for human freedom and fulfillment in the proletarian consciousness.
b) Communism: Unity of Human Species and Spiritual Liberation
Real human unity is not constructed by means of economic exchange, political communication and coordination, or even cultural intercourse between different peoples, collectives or individuals. Such views are characteristic of Leninist socialism, which does not surpass the already-existing realities of capitalism and only aspires to intensify and extend them. The real unity of the human species as world community means much more, it means a new form of total consciousness. Capitalism created the external means for this unity, but it did not create the necessary form. This form is a new type of autonomous human activity, oriented towards the full development of the human essence, in such a way that it awakens the most profound consciousness of existence in individuals, which is simultaneously collective and shared in common, and which only discovers its comprehension and realization through the community. This will not be produced by the politics or the modes of economic and cultural activity characteristic of existing society, but only by a real spiritual revolution that will be—and must be, by force of circumstances—a total social revolution at the same time. It is in the best that the proletarian movement has produced at the level of the spiritual community of individuals, which we can describe as a creative harmony involving social transformation and the self-transformation of the individuals themselves, that we see the seed of this new foundation for human life and this new humanity.
We do not want to fall back on that kind of atheist religiosity or comrade ideology, which only conceals social relations commanded by egoism, or even the open reproduction of submission and self-alienation. We want to construct a profound fraternity, human love, as the subjective basis of communist society and thus of the communist movement. To accomplish this, we do not need an anarchist ethics or morality, or moderating and standardizing authority that would impose an artificial equality. What is needed is to liberate the energies, the abilities and the consciousness of needs that would allow human beings to surpass not only proletarianization but also the horizons of life under capitalism and class society. A new concept of praxis capable of constructing new social relations and contributing the understanding necessary for raising autonomous human activity to a level of will, creativity and, in short, subjective need, corresponding to the historical purpose of overcoming capitalism. It is not simply a question of reaffirming the needs to which capitalism has reduced the proletariat—animal necessities and needs derived from its reduction to (and reproduction as) a mere gear or cog in the production process—but to go beyond these needs, to regain for consciousness the multifariousness and infinite and creative variability of human needs.
This new integral conception of praxis thus implies in practice going beyond all the limits imposed by existing society, and in theory overcoming the archetype of the spiritualized individual peculiar to capitalism. This ideal type is nothing but the intellectual, which is questionable not only because it separates thought from action, the specific field of its activity from the interdisciplinary perspective of the totality, and its own theoretical method from its origin in the ongoing process of historical experience.
What we want to emphasize is that, from the point of view of the development of human productive powers, not only must the intellectual/manual division of labor be overcome, but the limitation of psychological development to the existing intellectual and/or manual functions must also be overcome. The revolutionary self-transformation of individuals requires a labor of spiritual self-development that goes beyond this miserable way of life reduced to a struggle for existence. Nor are we offering an apology for “subjectivity”: the change of consciousness is determined by the change in the social conditions and finds the motor of its actualization in the class struggle; if there is a tendency towards an absolute exacerbation of the conflict between the classes, the latter will sooner or later be translated into consciousness. What is important with regard to the problem of consciousness is not whether or not it exists—some form of consciousness always exists—but whether the revolutionary subject is capable of autonomously developing his consciousness and, in accordance with the latter, his action as well.
The proposition that subjective desires are the motor force of change is translated, in the absence of a strong revolutionary tendency—as is the case today—into a defense of political individualism and subjectivism, as well as of egoism in general, and acts as a dissolving element. Far from a spiritual transformation, it reinforces the dominant consciousness, which is instilled in the ruled class precisely because its needs are thus expressed in an alienated mental form, as alienated desires, moulded to fit existing society (even when they assert its destruction or negation, since this subjective antagonism is also a normal part of bourgeois society). This mad subjectivism elevated to political praxis is simply the product of isolation and psychological alienation. Progress will not be achieved by encouraging the proletarians to “do what they desire”—whether individually or collectively—nor by attempting to impose external leadership on them, but by questioning the prevailing way of life and existence—by experiencing life and adapting and responding to life—as radically and as universally as we do with regard to the mode of production itself. It is a question of making communism a spontaneous “living consciousness”, precisely because it will have to be the product of a process of spiritual self-liberation.
The new revolutionary spirit is seen from a historical perspective situated beyond capitalism, the foundation for the conscious evolution of the human species.
3. The Myth of the Class Struggle
Is the movement produced as a result of or through contradictions? This may seem to be a philosophical quibble. The tension between opposed forces is inherent to matter as we know it, it is something that simply accompanies and is inseparable from the movement. It is an essential characteristic of the movement. (We shall see below where we are going with this.)
In the 19th century, the rise of the proletarian movement was the result of great efforts, but it was not confronted by social conditions of either a moral or spiritual kind that were fully developed and established. In other words, at the subjective level, simple ignorance was far and away the predominant factor, rather than psychological alienation. The latter obviously existed, but it was a much less influential factor. The way of life—in the broadest sense of the term—typical of the feudal era was dissolving and the new capitalist way of life was highly unstable. In these conditions, it was possible to think that the decisive factor in the development of the proletariat as a revolutionary subject was its organization as a material force and the fact that the latter was based on the consciousness of the common character of its class interests.
This view is no longer tenable. Even those who proclaim this “community of interests” do not generally take into account the fact that needs are not expressed as interests unless they acquire a conscious form, unless they are fixed to a practical goal. It is, by definition, something completely subjective, in which social existence and social consciousness are combined as content and form, respectively. As a result, advocacy of the class struggle can make sense as a counterpoint to reformist and pseudo-revolutionary ideologies, but it simultaneously reproduces the radical mythology of the old workers movement.
If the proletariat must overcome the illusions and the mythology of the bourgeois revolution, it must also overcome its own illusions and mythology created by hundreds of years of reformist experience. During that time all the categories of historical analysis, all the concepts we use, were subjected to mystification, they were adapted to reformist praxis. The class struggle is one of these categories.
The most radical, nominally revolutionary fraction of the reformist movement—which also believed that it was revolutionary—always thought that the time would come in the class struggle when the latter would become so radicalized (or it would attain so much power) that bourgeois society would be transformed in a revolutionary way. In reality, however, just the opposite took place. In response, faced with the permanent defeat that overwhelmed the traditional workers movement due to its insertion into capitalism as an organized force and as private individuals, one part of this radical fraction split off from the reformist movement and developed a series of ideologies in which the class struggle was identified with the traditional workers movement and took the idea of the class struggle as motor force to an extreme (the autonomism of Toni Negri, et al.). As a supersession of the old movement, it then postulates the configuration of a new revolutionary subject and new forms of struggle into which the proletariat would have to dissolve itself—regardless of the question of whether or not these different ideologies view the proletariat and the class struggle as revolutionary factors. These ideologies have, with the further extension of the permanent defeat and the consequent loss of the rank and file base of the extreme left forces—including that of social reformism—managed to gain relevance and popularity within a relatively broad international political spectrum. This explains the rise of the “citizens movement” (or the “civil society movement”). The seemingly most radical forms of this pseudo-revolutionary ideology were nothing but a Trojan horse, and only contributed a negative critique of the old workers movement.
The illusion of class struggle, and of any other form of social contestation, as a solution/supersession of the problem of reformism, is hardly tenable today. In practice, reformism and opportunism must once again be banished from our minds, since this struggle is today—normally—lacking a revolutionary character. As a soteriological myth it is profoundly anti-theoretical, because it leads to a way of thinking in which practical activity always prevails over theoretical activity, with a tendency towards spontaneism. It must necessarily drift towards an ideology absorbed in the attempt to radicalize the class struggle and combat all the forces that retard that struggle. This would of course be correct were it not for the fact that, following their basic reasoning, they interpret the limits of the class struggle to reside not in “theoretical activity”—or, more precisely, in the alienation of spiritual abilities—but exclusively in practical activity. Thus, they must strive to deny that the proletariat is reformist for internal reasons: if it is reformist, trade unionist, pro-party, sexist, racist, etc., this is because the bourgeois class has deceived it, because it is ignorant, manipulated, etc. In other words, in practice this perspective leads to the conclusion that the working class is not developing as a revolutionary subject because it is too stupid. It needs saviors, who either must not be authoritarian or if they are they must be good expositors of revolutionary recipes—or they must devote themselves to attacking capitalist institutions on their own account and at their own risk, ending up in isolated violence.
The recovery of the true meaning of the class struggle as a real category of the historical process requires that one rid oneself of all these ideological interpretations and return to an understanding of the class struggle in the light of the principles of historical materialism and the study of the empirical processes of struggle in all their complexity. Then one discovers in the class struggle the motor of the historical process, the subjective form of the contradiction between productive forces (labor) and relations of production (capital), the way that social needs are met within a society lacking any conscious regulation of material production. The class struggle is therefore nothing but the dynamic form that revolutionary praxis must assume, not revolutionary praxis as such—and furthermore, only in its form as social praxis with reference to the transformation of the material mode of production. The transformation of the way of life as a whole and of the mode of existence of people has not been seriously considered until now, precisely because the point of departure was still (even in classical councilism) the theoretical vision elaborated by the revolutionary (proto-) movement of the 19th century. It was necessary to break with this vision, to understand its practical impotence in the light of our current era, and to understand the relevance of conceiving an integral transformation.
But the illusions and myths of the working class—especially those that refer to the working class itself, to its role and its possibilities—derive their power from the prevalence of a practically impotent consciousness, characteristic of a condition of inactivity and disorganization. Once the class is forced by circumstances to engage in struggle on a massive scale, it will have to destroy this form of alienated practical consciousness and begin to dissolve this entire mythical superstructure. Contrary to the interpretations of bourgeois theoreticians, mythology is not a substitute for scientific knowledge, but the result of powerlessness when confronted by the world’s forces. To the extent that proletarians free themselves spiritually and materially from this powerlessness, they destroy the power of myth and liberate the abilities that allow them to replace myth with rational understanding, especially with respect to their own practice.
4. Reformism and Revolution
We categorically reject the notion that reformist struggles can be imbued with a revolutionary spirit, or steered towards serving the revolutionary progress of the class as an autonomous subject by supposedly revolutionary propaganda or “leadership”. It is the class itself that must reach its own conclusions, and it can only do so by following a course that is consonant with the level of individual and collective practice. Attempting to force progress will only result in the creation of authoritarian relations that, either explicitly or in an occult fashion, will be used to create new illusions with regard to the old forms of organization, struggle and thought.
It is necessary to abandon all party- and leadership-oriented practices in order to really contribute to the progress of the class. It is the class as a whole that establishes its own dynamic of conscious development. Those of us who are in revolutionary groups comprise a mere instrument of the class for its self-development, a tool. It is the class that can effectively be autonomous, not groups or individuals, because it is only in the class as such that a real historical determination exists, through a totality of relations that unite individuals as social beings. Our own expectations only have a social meaning in relation to the tendencies of the class. Our ideas express the class movement under certain conditions, in a particular place and at a particular time. The pretension of being independent of the dynamic of the class, the idea that a minority is the bearer of revolutionary consciousness that the class does not recognize at a practical level, is only possible because the consciousness that is actually borne is not a proletarian class consciousness, but proceeds from the experience and the way of thinking of other classes or class layers (the intelligentsia and the petit bourgeoisie, the middle classes). Proletarian autonomy is in its wild form or it does not exist. It can even develop in an antagonistic combination with forms of authoritarianism, ideologization, etc., but it cannot grant them recognition. It is the proletariat abolishing itself as wage slave, it is the combative form of self-affirmation as integral human beings while we continue to exist within bourgeois society.
The impostors and their own illusions about their praxis, along with their false expectations and their ideological mystifications about reality, are practically the vanguard of the bourgeoisie within the proletarian movement. No revolutionary organization can grow and attain relevance outside of a period of ascendant struggle, and can only preserve its revolutionary character if that struggle develops into a mass revolutionary struggle, an openly revolutionary situation. Otherwise, it is either not really and practically what it claims to be, or it is dissolved with the retreat of the masses.
The active rejection of our positions by those who defend the practices of the old workers movement in the name of a revolutionary perspective is the best endorsement for us, the sign that we are on the right road. The question of whether or not these reformist currents, old or new, succeed in growing, or even if they win certain improvements for the class, is meaningless. What is really important with regard to the class struggle is not its immediate victories—whatever form they may take—but its effect on the maturation and unification of the class.
Workers organizations cannot be more than what the class is (and their form also responds to the level of conscious autonomous activity of the class). Their differences can be explained by the fact that they represent distinct sectors, with different degrees of maturity (or by the fact that, in reality, they are not workers organizations at all, as is the case with the “workers” organizations that are fully integrated into the capitalist State so that they do not represent the proletariat but only depend upon its submission in order to fulfill certain functions for capital. Or, as in the case of those organizations that incorporate bourgeois nationalism and, in practice, inter-classist positions). On the other hand, insofar as they constitute permanent structures, subject to internal processes of decision-making and debate—as well as to a greater or lesser degree of hierarchy within these processes—they tend to be left behind by the course of history and the evolution of the autonomous activity of the class, and represent outdated positions which are not adapted to current conditions.
5. The Revolutionary Aspiration
In order to endure, and to achieve the fortitude necessary to encourage the great labor of humanity’s transformation and self-transformation, the revolutionary aspiration of the proletarians must be born from the depths of their hearts, where the psychological center—the sense of self—is psychosomatically located. It must be a spiritual sense of radical species identity, a feeling of positive uniqueness2 of the human species, which integrates the multiple separate individuals with their particularities and unique characteristics. One expression of this is the spontaneous recognition of the freedom of others as an extension rather than as a limitation of one’s own freedom. This spiritual aspiration must also contain a sense of belonging, a feeling of being part of the social totality and of nature, of the One as an indivisible totality, of the species as the self-creating community of each human life. One expression of this is the longing for the fullness of individual life by way of the fullness of the life of others.
In the situation in which we find ourselves, where historical conditions have not yet compelled this qualitative leap in human consciousness, the class struggle can break out at critical junctures, more or less locally restricted to one country or another (although these processes are in turn spatially-temporally interconnected on a global level). But these risings are not producing a form of consciousness that transcends the spirit of capitalism. The proletariat must not only develop its spirit in the sense of autonomy; it must also develop a real communist spirit, an aspiration to create a new form of society that is qualitatively distinct from the existing one. In this sense, autonomy is also just a form.
This positive revolutionary aspiration can only arise on a massive scale when capitalist society has really reached its end, when the contradiction between labor and capital has become directly radical and total on a generalized scale and capital can no longer even preserve the survival of the majority of the proletariat: when wages are reduced below the level required for the social reproduction of labor power (the family), when the extension of the working day and the intensification of the labor process approach the maximum, when the industrial reserve army is constantly and absolutely enlarged, and when the State’s economic capacity for attenuating the effects of this generalized economic degradation is dismantled. None of these developments are unknown, but they are far from having reached the point of generalization and devastation to which we are referring.
What has already taken place in episodic “national” crises (Latin America, the former Soviet Bloc countries) and in general residually in the most impoverished countries, is only a foretaste on a limited scale and in an “accidental” way: some are economic collapses concentrated in time and isolated, the others are only—for now—the necessary blowback (underdevelopment) of the imperialist accumulation of capital (development) under conditions of global capitalist decline. That is, it is an impoverishment that is still relative or induced, and is not yet rooted in the imminent tendency to stagnation. This is why advanced capitalism resorts to the economies of these countries as suppliers of labor and raw materials. With the development of capitalism, however, the organic composition of capital also tends to rise in underdeveloped countries—by way of industrial relocation, for example—resulting in the intensification of the global tendency towards collapse.
In the light of this global context, it is understood that the revolutionary aspiration today exists only as a vital aspiration, a desire for pleasure and power, since the conditions for its development at a more profound level are lacking, which would imply an effort of spiritual self-transformation. The latter only occurs in isolated individuals. Because it does not reach the psychic core by way of the emotional experience of human unity and identity, by way of the autonomous organization, creative and fraternal experience of the revolutionary proletarian community, individual rebellion is psychologically exhausted in the frustrated desire for power and material pleasure—for possession and control—and does not attain the experience of “cosmic” species identity (the psychological self-transcendence of the individual in the community of humanity). Nor is the individual opened up to the experience of unity at the mental and communication-relation level. In other words, on the one hand, the opening of the senses with respect to oneself and others, and on the other hand, the development of a unitary and sober view of the totality, as interdependent parts of a single whole. Nor does human aspiration succeed in descrying the summit of its own spirit, the aspiration to infinitude, to a self-extension that is no longer alienated as in absolutist egoism but is a sincere and spontaneous longing for dynamic unity with the totality of what exists, for the experience of universal harmony.
And since humanity itself is nature at its highest evolutionary stage, previous psychological stages also have their parallels in relations with external nature, as well as in relations with other individuals. There is no separation at all between the vulgarly material reality of human life and the highest reaches of the human spirit. There is an essential unity that resides in its materiality.
Although we affirm that the revolutionary aspiration is still underdeveloped, the process of spiritual development continues in society. With the development of the standard of living in the most advanced capitalist societies, the satisfaction of the most basic material needs of the bulk of the proletarian class permitted the rapid development of an ever more diversified leisure culture which, although not fully or creatively developing spiritual capacities, did constitute a step forward in the sense of a life of integral self-realization. Of course, this takes place in conjunction with the development of a leisure industry and the concomitant spread of alienated social relations and forms of activity, but it was a necessary historical condition for making progress towards their revolutionary supersession.
The degree of mystification of human existence to which those of us who are aware of all the factors discussed above are subjected, as well as those who are also moving forward in this direction, is therefore constantly increasing. The revolutionary aspiration, whether latent or active, is today a preeminently negative rather than a creative aspiration, and tends to become a destructive passion, which confuses the positive with the reality of alienated life once the latter is stripped of its immediate sufferings and limitations. And when it employs positive concepts, the latter are empty, because in order to really refer to a new society one needs new concepts and a dynamic spirit open to new experiences.
Meanwhile, for the greater part of the class, the revolutionary aspiration is something that is psychologically buried under layers upon layers of alienated consciousness concerning social life and one’s own personal existence (both of which are historical products). Both materially and spiritually, the proletarian class is mired in reformism due to its inability to see any other horizon, not even a short-term way out of this situation. It is the self-degradation of the human species as slaves of the capitalist machinery, brought about by technological development and egoism. Tormented bodies and mutilated souls in an ocean of frustration and hopelessness.
6. The Nadir of Degradation Produced by Capitalism in Decline
In this state of extreme alienation, while the class struggle is increasingly directed against the very continuance of capital and accumulation, the class sees itself as purely reformist. And thus, in conjunction with this subconscious defeatism, there is on the individual scale the generalization of the most mean-spirited and ignorant individualist mentality. Meanwhile, “revolutionaries” present themselves as the sole (sic) oppositional force against capitalism, but still have a preeminently destructive attitude, which does not yet seek a truly radical transformation of the individual and society. The class struggle is practically posed as an end in itself.
The proletarian movement is therefore sinking into the same material and spiritual degradation caused by capitalism, while the revolutionary advance guard is exhausted, in this attempt to save it from the abyss, by a useless effort to radicalize and intensify the class struggle itself. They do not notice that it is only by falling into this abyss of barbarism that the class will become capable of being reborn as a revolutionary subject, as a transformed and continuously and consciously self-transforming subject. It is not by attempting to avoid the inevitable—and therefore the necessary—that revolutionaries can help the working class, but by striving to construct the theoretical and practical foundations that will provide the revolutionary mass movement with a channel when it really begins to form on a world-historical scale: creating the embryonic foundations and forms for the INITIAL phase of that development—which, as prefigurations, will have to be partly deductions from past experience and partly experimental initiatives based on future tendencies and possibilities. This is how we can contribute to the progress of the class in a revolutionary sense.
Objective class contradictions have not yet reached the point of an absolute and qualitative radicalization, which would make possible the corresponding qualitative change on a mass scale of the consciousness of the proletarian class, that is, of its social praxis and its spiritual aspirations. Without this, the break with reformism and its forms can only be partial and transitory, in the form of movements and struggles in periods characterized by the exacerbation of class conditions. The function of the current reformist struggles, insofar as they are struggles undertaken by the proletariat itself, is to make the class slowly mature, bringing about the conviction that reforms and capitalism itself are unviable, and that its own reformist organizations are reactionary and bourgeois.
Our tactic consists, then, in always defending the necessity for revolution, both theoretically and practically: in the development of the goals, methods, forms of organization and tactics of proletarian struggles. And this, in spite of and even in opposition to immediate benefits. Such benefits will not cause the class to mature in a revolutionary way, nor will they alter the basic trend towards the degradation of living standards. Instead, they will fortify the false illusions which the workers have not yet jettisoned, at a time when these illusions can only prepare the ground for more extensive and profound defeats and retreats. Whenever the struggle is integrated into capitalism it is reactionary in absolute terms for the class as a whole, even when it can benefit—temporarily and meagerly—a reduced part of the class (especially the best-organized and that part that forms the most active rank and file of the dominant trade unions—and, consequently, “representatives” of the bureaucracy).
7. Historical Materialism as Praxis
There are no “laws” in history, just as there are none in nature. That is, there are no invariable standards, only relative tendencies in perpetual change. Every theoretical proposition concerning real processes is necessarily limited to a particular time, place and situation. Bourgeois science is based on theoretical laws which become a priori arguments, which serve in turn as guides for scientific experimentation and the interpretation of human experience. It is therefore essentially mechanistic and schematic when we consider it from the viewpoint of the theory-praxis relation.
For the proletariat there is no other criterion and consequently no other science than the science of praxis. We only know the world by acting upon it, that is, through our praxis: of the factors that influence it, of its internal structure as the relation of theory and practice, of the theoretical and practical capability of the human being. The only really important thing is experience in transformation, seen as a moment of the social totality in process.
The comprehension of the revolutionary transformation cannot be deduced from “historical laws” of any kind. Historical materialism is not a method that proceeds from the abstract to the concrete, starting from predetermined theoretical premises, but always starts from and always returns to empirical reality. And in this process one obtains not only a rational interpretation of experience, but also an appreciation for the limitations of this rational knowledge. In other words, historical materialism must test itself by means of praxis, it cannot exist as a method elaborated once and for all: that would be a return to bourgeois philosophy, even if it is a “philosophy of action” or even a “philosophy of praxis”.
It is praxis as unity-in-process of thought and action which determines the practical technique as well as the theoretical method. Historical materialism can only be such if it is conceived and realized as an element of proletarian praxis. But this is impossible when the objective is not to transform the praxis of real proletarians, but to take power, to acquire some material benefits, etc.—for which purposes the praxis of real proletarians operates as a simple means—it is impossible when the goal is not to really transform human life and to attain the development of individuals as complete individuals.
Abstracted from individual and collective praxis, as it was by Leninism and mainstream social democracy, with the goal of reducing that praxis to an instrument of the political struggle, separating it from the real life of the proletarians and converting it into the specialized affair of “Marxologists”, professors and special “cadres”, historical materialism has been alienated from its real function and abandoned in praxis, which continues to be ruled—in reality—basically by the mental and behavioral habits of the ruling consciousness. In the light of its historical praxis, it is clear that Leninism is nothing but an unconscious idealism (the heir of the bourgeois enlightenment), just as the mechanistic materialists of the 18th century were forced to fall back onto idealism as soon as they moved from the arena of external nature to that of directly social nature.
We particularly insist on the need for an elevated and widespread theoretical understanding, reaching very difficult levels of abstraction; at the same time, however, we are fully aware of the fact that all theoretical elaborations, programs, tactical conceptions, etc., must be considered as mere means for reflection on the concrete problems that lived experience is continually presenting to us. This experience must always be the point of departure and the destination; abstract theory only has value because of its capacity for orienting concrete practical activity. The closest definition for the understanding of historical materialism is that of an “experimental science”, but not at all that of a “scientific theory” in the ordinary sense of the term. And it just so happens that this ordinary or “common” sense always leads to the interpretation of everything in the light of the ruling consciousness.
Capitalism’s increasingly more profound and internalized ideological rule, with its ideological production on a mass scale—including its own specialists in knowledge—requires a questioning of reality as a whole in order to be really capable of attaining an understanding and application of historical materialism; a questioning that must necessarily include human activity itself and consequently that of the questioning subject. It is upon this basis that it will be possible to develop a unitary revolutionary thought and to consciously maintain its connection with revolutionary practice and historical conditions.
8. The Danger Posed by the Degeneration of Revolutionary Groups
Faced with their inability to provide a practical response to the crisis of the old workers movement, or rather its decomposition, most revolutionary groups and organizations are paralyzed in dogmatism and sectarianism. This explains why practically ineffective theories combined with theoretically irrational practices prevail among these groups, which separate them even more from the proletariat or lead them into the most vulgar opportunism.
Theoretically and practically isolated groupuscules appear, which attempt to assume “party” functions, but which, lost in their own ideologizations of reality employed to justify their failure to fulfill these functions, become sects and act and think like sects. Others give up and are recuperated for reformism on the basis of the excuse of “ideological proximities”—as when “autonomists” or councilists join anarchosyndicalist organizations, for example.
Behind all of this lies the most complete lack of understanding of the process necessary for the proletariat’s development as a revolutionary subject and thus of the way to act consciously in these processes on the part of advanced groups in order to further its development.
This lack of understanding explains the spread of ideological anarchist, left communist, postmodernist, etc., tendencies, which has been taking place for decades within council communist groups and the autonomous workers movement. Furthermore, it also explains the current non-existence of council communist groups with even the slightest relevance.
Blaming this process of corruption with external elements on causes of a theoretical nature is largely due to the unique characteristics of council communism as a radically anti-substitutionist and anti-reformist theory.
To the extent that the context of the real class struggle, for the foreseeable future, contradicts the revolutionary perspectives of the radicalized elements, the latter tend to either lean towards substitutionism—by way of the creation of revolutionary parties or ultraleftist groups of enlightened persons which act independently of the class (and attempt to get the latter to assimilate their ideas or to join their sectarian movements)—or towards opportunism. Only a few individuals (such as Paul Mattick from the 1940s to the 1970s) knew how to wait and look for the right moment, enduring extreme isolation and structural groupuscularism and in the meantime adjusting their role to the existing conditions, participating as much as possible in immediate struggles and striving to clarify them in a revolutionary sense while aware that the real tendency is still against their perspective.3
Unlike council communism, left communism and ideological anarchism are capable of preserving a revolutionary ideology that is apparently congruent with historical experience, simultaneously combining it with a practical deviation of the substitutionist type. This substitutionism may adopt any sort of concrete form (authoritarian, pseudo-spontaneist, ideological, armed struggle, etc.). All these tendencies are characterized by the fact that their action is based on the circumstance that, objectively speaking, the revolution is necessary but the proletariat does not possess the organizational and intellectual ability equal to the situation—it is “backwards”, it is ignorant, it is ideologically “alienated”, etc. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that what is needed is “leadership”, the latter having the character of either explicit political authority or it takes the form of an attempt to exercise it through a “moral” authority—concealing its political character.
The basis of these currents is historical subjectivism, which is foreign to the dialectical understanding of proletarian praxis. Instead of seeing the consciousness and the organization of the proletariat as expressions of its subjective necessity, dependent on the development of the class struggle, they see historical necessity as an abstract entity autonomous of real proletarianized individuals, disconnected from proletarian autonomous activity. Thus, they confuse and mystify their particular perception of necessity, imagining that it is the effective necessity such as it is felt by the class. They even attempt to justify their activity by thinking that, if the class does not act in a revolutionary way, this is because the old organizations and the corresponding ideologies present an absolute barrier.
In this way, what is fundamental for them is to convince the proletariat of the necessity for revolution, rather than concretely helping it to mature and to make progress in this slow and laborious process of development as a revolutionary class, starting from the blindness of reformism and the fog of capitalist alienation, which is the class struggle itself. Nor is it possible for them to attain an objective view, disencumbered of the optics of individual necessity, that would be capable of understanding effective social necessity as a result of the interaction between the dynamic of the conditions of existence (which is the determinant factor)—practical life—and the dynamic of the practical consciousness of life (which is the determined factor), by way of the course taken by the class struggle.
These militants have this alienated perception of social necessity, and of their own practical role in the class struggle, precisely because of their objective or subjective separation from the proletariat’s general situation, representing the positions of distinct strata of the class—lumpen, labor aristocracy, students, etc.
Council communism cannot degenerate in this sense without explicitly adopting ideological tendencies that are foreign to it, which would constitute a regression to superannuated and obsolete ways of thinking. For all these reasons, while due to the current level of class conflict there is no significant organized council communist presence, there are nonetheless numerous left communist groups that claim descent from the “communist left” and support “world revolution”, etc., and that, while incorporating elements of council communism, reject the label or consider “council communism” to be a deviation from the “communist left”.4 The same is true of anarchist tendencies, that see council communism as a verification of their ideas, and that reduce the revolution to a problem of “self-management”.
Thus, left communists and ideological anarchists may speak of “workers autonomy”, but they have a distorted conception of it, wherein conscious organization is practically secondary with respect to spontaneity. The “real revolutionaries” will then come to the aid of this spontaneity—because the abstract cult of spontaneity exists only as the ideological expression of certain subjects—in order to balance that pre-existing disequilibrium between conscious organization and spontaneity—that exists only in their theory, which artificially and non-dialectically separates spontaneity and organization.
Autonomy without conscious and independent organization, or autonomy directed by a “party” or an ideological group, is a falsification of the very concept of autonomy. In the view of these groups, the proletariat does not govern or lead itself, but acts for itself merely in an abstract sense, without consideration of the real contents of its action or of whether or not such action is conscious (self-management), or else considers that it can only act consciously thanks to the wise directives of a “party” (neo-Leninism).
9. The Theoretical Vitality of Council Communism
What is fundamental, and the expression of the vitality and the possibilities of a way of thinking, is not the assimilation of foreign elements, but its capacity for self-actualization by virtue of its own theoretical-practical efforts. That is, it is a theory’s ability to adjust to contemporary conditions on the basis of historical experience, which demonstrates its validity as an element of the conscious action of the proletariat to transform its situation. Unless it passes this test no practical verification has any meaning, because then theory itself cannot be judged if the results of its practical implementation are or are not a confirmation of itself, of the purposes of the action in question.
Only by openly breaking with all sectarian ideologies and groups, by undertaking real work oriented towards the enrichment and encouragement of the autonomous activity of the working class, will it be possible for us conscious proletarians to contribute to the construction of a real revolutionary movement and make revolutionary thought relevant in our time. In this essential sense, revolutionary thought can only exist as a product of the autonomous activity of the class itself, it is not something that sprouts from the greater or lesser intelligence of revolutionary militants.
The precondition for undertaking this real work is the formation of a minimal group, for the purpose of assuming the tasks of propaganda and theoretical development. In such an undertaking the revolutionary militants may fail, become discouraged or exhausted, but we must persevere, find the way, never give up. Our task is not based on ideals, but on the sensible recognition of the fact that, if the proletarians do not become the gravediggers of capitalism, capitalism will become our tomb and that of all humanity. Above all, any step forward with respect to the conscious action of the proletarians as a class is worth more than a dozen “revolutionary” groups.
Ígneo, no. 8, October 2006
Translated from the Spanish in May-June 2009.
- 1 Ígneo No. 5, December 2005, “Towards a New Beginning … For Communism, For Anarchy”.
- 2 The following explanation was added after the completion of the text: “Uniqueness”, like “unity”, is derived from the root word meaning “one”. While “unity” means simply “the quality that makes one a single whole”, “uniqueness” means “the quality characteristic of that which is a single whole” and is derived from the word “unique”, which means something whose qualities as a whole constitute the expression of an immanent unity. Uniqueness is the immanent unity of multiplicity. We hope that if this is not clear enough in context, this explanation will now make it crystal clear.
- 3 One must know how to differentiate between the objective tendency of capitalism to exacerbate class conflict, on the one hand, and the degree to which this tendency becomes effective and forces a change of perspective in the proletariat, on the other hand. Here we are referring to the real tendency resulting from the combination of objective and subjective tendencies of the class struggle.
- 4 This is to ignore the fact, as does the ICC, that this “deviation” is the most highly developed expression of the same theoreticians and current of thought that formed the core of European “left communism” prior to the break with the Third International, and who then went on to call themselves “council communists” in order to distinguish themselves from the internal opposition in the Third International. The case of the ICC is interesting because its French section was formed in the 1970s from the merger of groups that had alleged links to council communism, but also groups that had a Bordigist, Luxemburgist and semi-Trotskyist background.